MY apologies for the cussing, but I was shocked that all of a sudden Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta is being blamed for the outbreak of measles in the country.
I am especially angry because in one of the dozen columns that I wrote last year on this Dengvaxia graft, I said that what made it so despicable was that in the long run it would weaken people’s confidence in vaccines, thereby risking the lives of millions of Filipinos.
And now the Yellows blame the PAO for the alleged loss of confidence in vaccines that is seen as the likely cause of the recent measles outbreak?
That Yellow senator for whom President Aquino 3rd threw hundreds of millions of pesos for her to win, Risa Hontiveros, even had the gall to ask for Acosta’s resignation. She claimed that Acosta’s “lies and hysterics contributed directly to the erosion of public trust in our vaccination programs.”
Such delirium from this do-nothing-complain-everything senator is an extreme case of the insanity of “killing the messenger” of bad news.
Wasn’t it Hontiveros’ boss, Aquino, who rushed the mass inoculation of 800,000 children with Dengvaxia in the last half of 2016? This was despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) had categorically declared that since its group of experts was still evaluating the new vaccine, it should be used with caution and under tight supervision of a doctor who would have to determine that the subject had not contacted dengue before, or had been exposed to the virus that causes it.
This information was crucial as many doctors suspected—which the WHO later determined—that if a recipient of the Dengvaxia vaccine had not been previously exposed to the dengue virus, were to later contract the disease, the result could be more severe symptoms, resulting even in death.
If Acosta spewed “lies and hysterics,” could she have done so if Aquino had not ordered a mass vaccination of a defective vaccine? How can one not be passionately concerned as Acosta if everyday poor people have been trooping to her office crying for justice for their dead children who had been well before they were inoculated by Aquino’s health department with Dengvaxia, and then died of dengue?
Why did Aquino risk the health and lives of one million children (the target to be inoculated with the drug)?
The first likely reason was that it was used as propaganda in the election campaign for the president and other national offices in May 2016. The line the Yellows used was that they were giving this vaccine for free, even if it cost at least P5,000 for the three necessary injections.
But I suspect there were hundreds of millions of reasons why Aquino and his gang were so reckless in undertaking this mass inoculation. The cost of the vaccine was P3.5 billion. With the purportedly usual 10 percent commission for such purchases, the “commission” would have been P350 million.
Anatomy of corruption
Those familiar with the anatomy of corruption in this country will instantly recognize such rushed purchases as neon-red flags pointing to graft. The speed at which the purchase was undertaken looked puzzling until one sees it as a ‘graft project’:
–December 2, 2015: Aquino met with Sanofi officials in Paris—the second time he did so—and as the meeting adjourned, he ordered Garin to rush the order to purchase the vaccines.
–December 22: The Food and Drug Administration, headed by Garin approved the use of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia. It normally takes two years for the FDA to give its approval for new drugs, and longer for risky vaccines since these are essentially weakened forms of the virus introduced into the body in the hope that it would develop its own immunity.
–December 29: The budget department’s authorization (SARO) for the purchase of the P3.5 billion vaccines was issued.
–January 2016: Garin (who had replaced Enrique Ona as health secretary in January 2015) announces that the mass vaccination program would be undertaken starting in February.
–March: The education department and the interior and local government department issued memorandums on their personnel’s participation in the program.
–April: The mass injection of 733,000 fourth-grade students with Dengvaxia begins.
Never before has such a major government program, a health program at that, involving a risky new vaccine, been undertaken in the span of just a few months.
Because of the risks of Dengvaxia, only the Philippines in the entire world has undertaken a government-sponsored mass vaccination program using the drug on such a scale, with the aim of inoculating a million children.
There was no plague-like outbreak of dengue at the time (or ever, really), with the disease only ranked as the ninth most prevalent disease in the country. The only urgency was the fact that the national elections were coming up in a few months’ time, and Aquino had to yield his seat to the next president. Most everyone, too, including media, would be distracted by the heat of the political contest.
There is just no evidence that the rise in measles cases it was caused by parents’ refusal to have their children vaccinated against the disease.
Measles cases have decreased ever since vaccination was introduced through the DOH Expanded Program on Immunization in the Philippines, which was started in 1976 during the Marcos martial law regime. However, despite high vaccine coverage, a nationwide outbreak occurred in 2013 to 2014, with over 67,000 children downed by the disease. Reported measles cases last year was 18,000, and so far this year about 1,500. But the outbreak has been global, from 287,000 in 2017 to 358,000 last year.
Other than our case simply reflecting the global trend, one reason why measles cases could have increased, particularly in 2016, is that the health department simply hasn’t been providing enough vaccines for the disease, with the P3.5 billion used to buy Dengvaxia in 2016 eating up the entire DoH budget for vaccines.
Why all these clearly stupid claims that Acosta is responsible for the outbreak of measles?
Blaming Acosta is a despicable smokescreen intended to hide one of the most abominable cases of corruption in the country, Aquino’s mass vaccination program using a defective vaccine, for political and most probably financial reasons.
It has been a well-planned propaganda campaign, with the current health secretary Francisco Duque falling for it, unfortunately. Duque issued a statement that “the remarks of the PAO chief have contributed to a decline in vaccine confidence and a rise in cases of measles and other vaccine preventable diseases.”
Where did he base this conclusion? Apparently on an alleged poll purportedly done by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that showed just 32 percent of 1,500 Filipinos surveyed trusted vaccines in 2018, down from 93 percent in 2015.
That poll is fake.
It wasn’t really a poll by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It was an “unsolicited” commentary titled “Vaccine confidence plummets in the Philippines following Dengue vaccine scare” submitted to the journal Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. It was a 500-word piece (half the length of this article) and had three authors, one of whom indeed was with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the other a statistician from another British university.
The third author was a Filipino, Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go.
Who is he?
He was the Food and Drug Administration head who anomalously pushed for his agency to green-light for the use of Dengvaxia in 2015, despite several experts’ objections. He is one of three doctors that the joint congressional committee that investigated this colossal case of corruption, had recommended should be criminally charged for the Dengvaxia debacle.
Yet the article had a prominent note: “Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.”
What a liar this Hartigan-Go is.
On Wednesday, I will discuss why this article is so patently a piece of propaganda that tried to pass itself off as an academic paper, in order to be used in Manila as a major input for the Yellows’ project to deflect blame for the Dengvaxia debacle from Aquino.